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Thursday, 27 March 2014

Will we still need to know about nature in space?

With the announcement that approval has been given for outdoor learning budgets to be cut by Birmingham council and Michael Gove's intention to make computer coding a compulsory part of the curriculum for all over fives I wonder what is going to happen in the future when we find that everyone graduating from schools, colleges and universities can program a computer, make fabulous computer animations, are really good at simultaneous equations but can't hammer a nail or saw a piece of wood?

Will there ever be a time when the practical skills as simple as tightening a screw, cutting a piece of wood, tying knots  or digging a hole are not required? I think not, and although I would argue that it as much, if not more, the domain of parents to teach these skills to their children what could be the value in separating children coming through the schools system from nature and practical physical involvement in manual tasks?

Those who may have wanted to go on to study ecology, countryside management, conservation, agriculture and a whole host of other subjects find themselves ill prepared and poorly qualified by any of the statutory examinations and awards currently being issued let alone in a few years time when it seems that education will become even more technology based. Even now I see students arrive at college with a vague interest in countryside management having joined a course but unable to do even the simplest of practical tasks, this means that a significant time needs to be spent bringing the students up to speed on things as simple as knocking in fence staples and cutting a strait line with a saw, the result of that is that they soon complain to be bored, and who wouldn't be, at sixteen or eighteen years of age you need more to stimulate you than knocking in some staples but because their practical ability is so poor I can't move onto more involved tasks until they have grasped the basics. (I must say at this point that not all my students have been like this, there have been many with a good grasp of practical skills and an honest interest and passion for learning and working outside in the countryside, they have been a pleasure to teach) It's not only the students who suffer from this overwhelming dependence on technology but it's being imposed on teachers too. In my last job at a college in Northamptonshire it was made clear to me that my ability as a teacher, bear in mind that I was employed to teach a vocational countryside management course, was going to be judged more on my ability to use an interactive whiteboard and a virtual learning environment than my ability to teach practical skills. I was once graded 'two' in an observed lesson instead of 'one' based on a single piece of negative feedback "the internet was too slow".

I wonder if any of those encouraging this futurist approach to education have given any thought to the fact that we will never do away with the need for people who understand ecology, the environment and nature. Who is going to grow our food, plan the rotation of timber production, manage pests, carry out habitat management and restoration, discover and classify new species etc.. When computer code can do all that then we can start relying on technology but until then we will need to maintain and develop our connection with nature.

Even if one day our technology has advanced so far that we can explore space and new planets what value will there be in that if all we can do when we get there is write computer code and do maths. We will always need ecologists, environmental scientists, experts in agriculture, bushcrafters and others with practical nature based skills.


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